Magazine article The Spectator

Eastern Promise - Will the Legacy List Live Up to the Hype? Asks Jack Wakefield

Magazine article The Spectator

Eastern Promise - Will the Legacy List Live Up to the Hype? Asks Jack Wakefield

Article excerpt

The Olympic Legacy List has less to do with the Olympics than its name suggests. True, it is responsible for the long-term cultural programme in the 618-acre Olympic Park but, as one insider put it, the real work begins when the circus leaves town.

The word on every Olympic panjandrum's or British politician's lips is legacy. There's a lot that's disingenuous about this. If regenerating the East End were all that mattered, a direct investment of �9 billion into infrastructure would have done very nicely, thank you. Still, just because the money could have gone further if it had been invested differently doesn't mean that we have to gnash our teeth too much. After all, the Games are turning out to be quite fun and lots of people seem happy enough paying eye-watering sums on football season tickets, so why not spend some taxpayer's money on athletics?

And once the rubbish has all been swept away there will be a legacy. It won't be the Barcelona bump, where the Olympics is credited with helping the city turn itself into one of the great tourist destinations of the world, because London is already a great tourist destination and, besides, most visitors to London will still want to see Westminster and Buckingham Palace. But neither will it be the Greek catastrophe where, within four years of Athens 2004, 21 of 22 Olympic venues had been abandoned. The immense pressure on London housing means that the creep east is already well advanced, with a mass of recent development along the river. The athletes' village, which will become social housing, will sit alongside plush towers of luxury apartments with soaring views. And if the right balance is struck, and the infrastructure works and the environment is pleasant, then we can all look forward to this being a major new area for London.

If the future of the park does unfold in that optimistic way, rather than it descending into a sink estate bristling with needles and breeding the next generation of BNP voters and disenfranchised potential terrorist recruits, then a lot of the credit will be due to Sarah Weir. Sarah is in charge of the Legacy List and combines admirable qualities of enthusiasm, intelligence and patience. She has been involved with the Olympic cultural programme since 2004 when the bid itself was embryonic, and before the recent creation of the List she worked at the Olympic Delivery Authority as head of arts.

Thanks to her ability to negotiate a mindbogglingly complicated administrative terrain she, with the support of the great cultural octopus Sir Nicholas Serota in his capacity as ODA trustee, has somehow kept culture at the heart of the Olympic Park, if not always its budgets. Thanks to Sarah, it is neither peppered with dreary sculptures of Olympians nor, I would argue (although I know that my 70-year-old father would disagree with me on this), is it filled with confusing and inappropriate contemporary art. Rather, everything is considered and selected with great sensitivity to the occasion and to the area.

There are two sculptures in the park that I particularly admire. One is the immense postbox-red tower called the 'ArcelorMittal Orbit', paid for by Indian Lakshmi Mittal and designed and built by Indian artist Anish Kapoor and Sri Lankan engineer Cecil Balmond. Not being a fan of Anish Kapoor, I expected to dislike it but I found its sinuous Meccano-like loops seductive. Intended to evoke entrails, it kept me in mind of the engineering of the living and competing bodies next door. …

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